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Nigeria Joins Senegal In Gaining 'Ebola-Free' Status


Nigeria has been declared free of Ebola. The all-clear has also been sounded in Senegal. As experts have pointed have pointed out to us in recent days, some other stray traveler could still bring it back, but the Nigerian progress, in particular, is a milestone. The disease was brought in by a single airline passenger, and there were visions of Ebola rampaging unchecked through Lagos, a mega-city of an estimated 20 million people or so. Instead, there were eight deaths - only eight. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has covered Nigeria for years, and from her base in Senegal, she's tracking how Nigeria did it.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Well, let me just quickly brief you that Patrick Sawyer, from Liberia - and everybody in this West African region now knows his name - showed up with symptoms of Ebola at the airport in Lagos shortly after he's landed. And he was taken to a private clinic in the city. It was there that Dr. Stella Adadevoh suspected Ebola. That was so important that she chose Ebola, as opposed to, you know, malaria or whatever else. And apparently, he was a little aggressive, wanted to leave, and they said, you have to stay. And his test was positive.

And what the World Health Organization is saying is that everything came together. The Nigerian Lagos state government, the federal state government - everybody was cooperating, coordinating and communicating. And that is why just one case - Patrick Sawyer, although he then infected 11 of the staff at the clinic - there were 19 confirmed cases - as you said, eight deaths - that it didn't spiral out of control and become a true catastrophe.

INSKEEP: So we had a little bit of luck and wisdom with the doctor or doctors at the beginning and then an aggressive public response. What else did Nigeria do?

QUIST-ARCTON: An astonishing epidemiological detective work, says the World Health Organization. The fact that it went about tracing the contacts and tracking down every single person who may have come into contact first with Patrick Sawyer and then with the clinic staff - the doctors and nurses. They started off with about 200 names that jumped up to almost 900, apparently, through tracking teams, then went to thousands and thousands of homes - 26,000, in the end - explaining, educating, getting people on side and saying, this is what you have to do and, of course, taking the temperatures of those who might have tested positive for Ebola. So in a way, it was a textbook case how things should be and how they went. It went well in Nigeria, thank goodness.

INSKEEP: Is there some reassurance here, Ofeibea? It's obviously such a deadly disease. Health officials have been insisting that it can be contained if certain procedures are followed. Is it reassuring that they can point to a very large country where it's worked?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, two countries - Senegal first, with one case, and then Nigeria. And it's a case of the public education, the awareness - help lines, radio, using social media - getting people on side, as I've said, and getting doctors to knock down the myths and the rumors about Ebola that - you know, listen, stop panicking. Calm heads, and we can stop this. Nigeria is the example, although - what? - 170 million people - a very mobile population, Steve. And if the doctors at the beginning and the nurses hadn't had cool heads, we could've had a disaster on the - you know, making Liberia and Sierra Leone seem almost calm compared with what could've happened in Nigeria, so bravo.

INSKEEP: Ofeibea, thanks.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.